Ophelia, or What I Wish Hadn’t Happened

For my senior thesis at St John’s, I wrote on Ophelia. There was a big party at the President’s house when we all turned in our papers. I wore a too-big bronze sequined dress. He came up to Jill and me and, with the pretense of hugging her because she was his friend, hugged us both. He was a big man, tall and lean and muscular and soft and strong like tree bark. He was wearing the same baby blue polyester dress shirt and slacks he wore to every formal function at our school. I secretly tried to see if he smelled like anything. He didn’t. He didn’t strike me as the type to wear cologne.

Don’t ask me why I never talked to him. I tried but it just never worked.

It was senior dinner. He came up to me after all the toasts and speeches and put his arms around me in the same rehearsed way. I knew he just wanted an excuse to feel me. “We did it Alma! We’re graduates!”

“Yeah,” I said lamely.

Later, in a private dining room at a bar called Del Charro with our classmates, he walked along the row of seats, putting his hands on people’s shoulders and whispering in people’s ears. He’s just doing that so he can whisper in mine. Indeed, I was the end of the row, and he stopped, and put his hands on either side of my neck and began to rub. Then he leaned and whispered, “I know you’re mad.”

“Why didn’t you come?”

He paused his massaging. I imagined his silent incredulous laughter. He was wearing the same blue shirt. “Something came up.” He stopped after me.

I hosted a party for my fellow January Freshmen, the people who started in my cohort in 2009. It was very simple. He didn’t show. I actually called him, almost drunk, to ask him why that night. I don’t remember what his response was. I just remembered he didn’t care.

And I, as usual, just cared way too much.

Later at Del Charro, I was sitting sipping the second half of a sweet and mild margarita, my dress feeling too short even though it covered my knees. It was silky satiny black, and again, was too large for me. He came over, his too long legs moving like a cowboy in a movie’s. I half expected the jingling of spurs, for him to throw down a cowboy hat. He was too straight-laced to wear cowboy clothing, though I knew he liked Westerns. He sat down next to me, and then, before I knew what was happening, grabbed my chair and yanked it over so that our legs were touching.

I may have been the meek mild type who would have done almost anything for him, but he couldn’t just help himself to my body. Even in that tiny subtle way someone as apparently stupid and smitten as me might not notice. I didn’t say anything, though. “What came up?”

He turned his head toward me without looking at me, gazing at the long table and the people talking, as though he longed to be over there. He had a knack for pausing for effect. He did this when responding to my messages, too. “I was walking someone home.”

“Who?” The word was out of my mouth before I could push it back in.

Again, the pause, but this time shorter. He looked directly at me this time, but didn’t hold my gaze. He was not so brave. “Are you sure you want to know?”

The words rang around the room as though he’d shouted them into a megaphone. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO KNOW…? In another Universe, one in which I didn’t respect boundaries and worship assholes, I dumped my still half full margarita in his polyester lap. In this sad Universe, I just said, “Yes.”

He told me the girl’s name. She wasn’t someone I had anything against, but I had long suspected she liked him. She won first place for poetry in our school’s contest. My poem was in the literary magazine, but it didn’t win an award. Shaking, I stood up and yelled, “Where’s Riley? He was flirting with me the other night.”

Riley, it turned out, was behind me. “Hi Alma,” he said uncomfortably, or maybe I imagined it. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

Jill, who lived with my cowboy friend, hugged me and said, “He’s not dating her. They’re not a thing.” She had, however, reassured me that he didn’t like me. Every time it was like a stab wound to the stomach.

I couldn’t bear that rejection. I feel like I could have borne others. I did. Just that one–that one was too much. It was too much, for four years. I was grateful when they finally ended.

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